I suppose we were a bit naive, thinking Hollywood could tell the entire story of a government intent on murdering ALL of its secret agents in only three movies. When you look at the more than $700 million the first three Bourne movies made and add to that the fact that they’re genuinely good movies, well, why stop train now? And if Matt Damon doesn’t want to come back for Round 4 — whether the studio isn’t paying him enough money or *shudder* he’s worried the story just isn’t there — well then, they’ll recast him and make the damn thing anyway.
Enter The Bourne Legacy. The one where we find out that “Jason Bourne was just the tip of the iceberg.” OF COURSE HE WAS. Well, like I said, those movies were pretty dang good, and I’d love to see more, so I’m perfectly willing to give this one a shot. Although I do have reservations. And I made a list.
1. Jeremy Renner. He was great in The Hurt Locker and The Town, but not much else. I thought he came off as contrived in Mission Impossible 4. And while he was competent in both Thor and The Avengers, I wouldn’t label him the breakout star of either film.
2. No Matt Damon. It is Matt Damon. Would you want to see an Ocean’s movie without George Clooney (or, for that matter, Matt Damon)? Don’t underestimate the je nais se quoi a star can take out of a franchise once he leaves. I’m still trying to come to terms with the fact that I’ll eventually have to watch a new Batman movie without Christian Bale. The horror.
3. Can lightning strike four times? The Next Generation? Great. Deep Space Nine? Loved it. Voyager? Uuugghhhh… By the Enterprise rolled around, Star Trek had turned into that friend who stays another five hours after everyone else has gone home. Heaven forbid they keep churning these movies out after they’ve run out of steam.
So, a few concerns. But cautious optimism is still optimism. So I’m gonna go and do my best not to set my expectations too high. And how does the movie stack up, after the dust has settled and every perfectly choreographed punch has landed? I’m happy to report that your hard-earned shekles won’t have been wasted here. Is it as good as the first three? No, it isn’t. But it lays the groundwork for another series of films that I think can be every bit as good. A few points…
All’s clear on the Jeremy Renner front. As one of the first of a new, genetically-modified breed of super soldier, I felt like I knew his character better than I did Matt Damon’s after The Bourne Identity. This isn’t just a Jason Bourne retread. Aaron Cross is someone who’s not exactly sure why Outcome (the new Treadstone) does what it does, and has a habit of asking too many questions. His training helps him keep his composure, but you get the sense that he’s a bit of a smartass. And as much as it pains me to admit it, it brought a level of realism to the role that Matt Damon didn’t. Or maybe it’s just a level of personable-ness. Yeah, that’s it.
Rachel Weisz, playing an Outcome scientist developing the medication that gives agents like Cross their physical and mental edge, is Cross’s love interest without actually being his love interest, which I found a welcome departure from the norm. My wife found her to be a bit too frantic, but her character is fundamentally different from Franka Potente or Julia Stiles, so I bought it.
Overall, I found Legacy’s plot to be more substantive than what came before it, even if it was a little more clumsily wielded. We learn more about what the government is doing with soldiers like Cross — genetic modification — and that makes it easier to understand why they’re so eager to slash and burn everything to the ground once Jason Bourne, completely off-camera but often referred to, shows up in and starts car-chasing his way through Manhattan. I think most people don’t find it a stretch to believe that the US has CIA kill squads out there, getting into all sorts of shenanigans, but genetically modified super soldiers? A bridge too far, I say!
The movie isn’t perfect. Some of the science talk gets a bit wonky and clumsily delivered. And again, how many government manhunts can we watch? I’m willing to buy that Treadstone was just one cog in a much larger machine, but I don’t want to follow twenty different agents, all on the run from the men who trained them. Eventually these films are going to have to find something else to do, and I felt Legacy took the first steps toward that. It’s not there yet, and I fully expect Edward Norton to show up whenever the next installment rolls around, trying to get his hands on Cross. But by the time we get to The Bourne Sanction (if we’re going by the book titles), Cross could be free — or sanctioned, if you will — to go after a target of his own. You know, if the movies do follow the book titles, the next one up will be The Bourne Betrayal! And if the titles are small hints at what the movies are doing, what could that mean? Douche chill!
I was recently listening to the excellent IGN UK podcast, in which the IGN team was discussing its most anticipated movies of 2012. Editor-in-Chief Alex Simmons said that his was the upcoming Bond film, Skyfall. He said he believed that Skyfall would mark a return to form for the franchise, bringing back the gadgets, the cheekiness, the sexism he felt were absent from Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace. He said that he had recently seen Ghost Protocol, and felt that it was a movie that out-Bonded these past few Bond films, saying that it proved you could have the gadgets and the humor and still have an intelligent, smartly made spy thriller.
I don’t think a BMW i8 that shoots rockets from behind its headlights or a wristwatch that shoots poison darts from behind its headlights and a good story are mutually exclusive things, but all those gadgets do make it harder for the movie to tell a good story. And in the case of Ghost Protocol, the gadgets are definitely the movie’s biggest problem. Why is that? Because there are too damn
many of them. No matter what problems the IMF comes up against, they’ve got some technological wonder to help them get past it. Tom Cruise has to climb seven stories outside the world’s tallest building and has nothing to hold on to? There’s an app for that. Tom Cruise and Simon Pegg have to move down a hallway but appear invisible to the guard sitting 10 feet away? There’s app for that. Jeremy Renner has to move through a giant computer mainframe that’s boiling hot so he can’t touch the floor or walls? There’s an app for that.
So, in the end, what you’re left with is a movie in which half the tension comes from wondering whether or not the gadgets are going to crap out. And guess what? SPOILER ALERT… they do. But even that’s sabotaged by the knowledge that while things may go sideways, they’ll never go too sideways. The team’s got to come back for Mission Impossible 5. There’s too much money at stake.
These aren’t the only problems the movie suffers from. Things can’t be all sex and explosions, so it tries generating sympathy for Jeremy Renner’s character by making him believe he’s responsible for withholding some vital piece of information during some previous mission that led to Cruise’s wife being killed. And if the scene weren’t so choreographed and Renner’s acting weren’t so subpar (this is the same guy from The Hurt Locker, right?) it might have worked. Also, while he looks good for a 49-year old, Tom Cruise is getting a little too old to play the action hero. Of course he finds an excuse to take his shirt off, and you notice he’s in the beginning stages of old-man physique. Again, good for a 49-year old, but these Mission Impossible movies definitely have a sell-by date.
This is the part of the review where I say that despite Ghost Protocol’s problems, I still enjoyed it. As long as you don’t think too much about it, you should have a good time. And honestly, not thinking too much about it isn’t a problem. We’ve seen so many movies like this that eventually we tune out all the details about rogue Russians and launch codes and just enjoy the eye candy blowing up in front of us. Fortunately, there’s plenty of that here (not the old-man physique).
There’s no reason that not being able to resist the siren song of Tom Cruise doing what he does best — sprinting, hanging off of stuff — should make you feel bad. It’s too strong for most people. There are definitely worse things you could do. But if you’re looking for a movie that delivers the action and a smart story, you’re probably better off waiting for Skyfall.